Thursday, October 29, 2009

Form Follows Function : A Bird Dog Clam Boat



This is a boat with a second life.

More than likely, it started life as a gill net boat, back before the 1994 net ban. In 1994, Floridians used a constitutional amendment to ban certain entangling nets and limit others. Concerned voters went the constitutional amendment route because our mostly worthless, lobbyist loving, legislators could not enact a regulation with the same effect.



Voters got fed up and did an endrun around them. Now the constitutional amendment process seems to be out of hand with numerous ones each year. These days, I vote no on all of them as a protest to this type of law making. We have a legislature for a reason and constitutions should not be loaded with amendments ... in my opinion.



But back to this boat ... it's a bird dog boat, a style I've written about before. They were designed to lay hundreds of yards of gill nets out the back of the boat as you raced around a school of fish like mullet.

When the net ban passed, bird dogs began fading away. The little town near PFHQ had a legendary bird dog boat builder named Tremblay and his business faded away too. The commercial netters either switched their fishing methods, faded away, or became clam farmers.

Cedar Key is now THE center for clam farming in the US.



Let's walk around this beautiful bird dog clam farmer boat I found parked at Cedar Key a few weeks ago.



On a bird dog, the motor sits behind the bow with the lower unit and prop poking through a hole in the hull. The magic of this is two fold, it keeps the motor out of the stern area where nets would be tossed out . As a clam farm boat, having the motor up front makes sense too, because very heavy clam bags will be coming aboard at the stern and it's nice to have the motor out of the way.

The second part of this magical design is the fact that as the boat comes on to a plane, the bow lifts the prop up with it and you can literally fly over very skinny water.

It's a beautiful thing.



Bird dogs tend to be wet rides though, so this boat has a nice spray shield installed to keep things a little more comfortable on a winter day when you are travelling out to your clam lease.



Here's a better view of how the motor sits in the hull hole.





Some bird dogs have a transom and some don't. Not having one on a clam boat makes loading those heavy clam bags off the lease and on to the boat a lot easier. The shade cover is a nice touch when you are out there under a blazing sun and it helps to keep harvested clams cool on the ride back to the grader.

The big roller on the top was a part of gill netting so it may be inert now, or they may have a winch to haul bags aboard.

When I search the internet for bird dog boats, I find my stuff and little more, so I'll keep posting about them from time to time as I find good examples.
They are unique Gulf of Florida boats built to to a specific job in very shallow water and they are a bit of an endangered breed, which makes this retrofit and new life a grand thing in my view.
... what? Oh, Why ARE they called "Bird Dogs"?
Picture a guy at the bow steering the boat with his crew behind him ready to deploy a 1000 yard gill net. As they race over the shallow Gulf flats, the man up front is scanning the waters for signs of a school of mullet.
When he sees them, he points and turns the boat toward them for the big circle.

11 comments:

Meems said...

Never knew this good information ... so 'endangered species' are not always living and breathing! (I'm with you on the constitutional amendments and the legislators getting their rears in gear to do what the people want... but that's a whole other subject).

Thanks for answering the bird dog question... was raised with bird dogs so the 'picture' you described was easy to envision.
Meems @ For the Love of Florida

Buford Nature said...

thanks for the lesson on bird dog boats. i have seen them in cedar key and thought they were crab trap boats. they're a nice example of local architecture, like the florida cracker house, but a naval architecture instead. interestingly, both were invented to address local environmental conditions.

TROLL Y2K said...

http://news.ufl.edu/2006/04/10/cedar-key-clams/

I'm fairly sure there was very little Clam Farming that far North before the Net Ban. Now, you lead the Nation.

Floridacracker said...

Meems,
It's really gotten crazy with tons of amendments each election. Sheesh.
Glad you could make the bird dog connection! :)

Buford,
I love the way different areas produce specialized designs to deal with their particular conditions. Glad this was useful.

Troll,
There was none. A few people gathered wild oysters, but no one was clam farming until the state brought in experts and offered training.

It was a trade off program, ie, We are taking your traditional method (gill nets) away, here is a new (and better) way to remain working on the water.

Cathy S. said...

I believe I saw that very same boat last weekend. Thanks for the education.

Miz S said...

As usual, I learned something new. I just hope that sometime in the next week or two, while it's fresh in my mind, I can casually bring up the subject of a)gill net fishing OR b)Florida clam harvesting OR c)adaptations in commercial fishing due to environmental law. My friends will think I am so smart!

Floridacracker said...

Cathy S,
I'm sure you did. It's a regular.

Miz S,
Ack ... might be hard to work that into a conversation ...

Suwannee Refugee said...

I've bought many a mullet from these hardworking folks when we couldn't find mullet down around Pine Island.

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Anonymous said...

You idiots banned commercial net fishing...now you have to eat chemical laden farmed fish from foreign countries!